When Aurora and Kellee first announced their jointly hosted Billy Wilder Blogathon, I was eager to sign up. After all, with a career such as his, the hardest part would be narrowing down what movie I wanted to choose. After a moment of thought, the right film, for me, seemed to be A Foreign Affair, starring a couple of ladies so completely opposite, but so very dear to me- Jean Arthur and Marlene Dietrich.
Wilder, having served in Germany for the US Army, during WWII, had been promised government assistance in making a film about Allied Occupied Germany. The humorous, if still shocking, exposés of the goings on, over there, made the government regret everything. Looking back, now, critics seem to waver on whether this film was one of Wilder’s worst or best, but I personally find it to be a genius look at the realities of post-war Germany. For Wilder to have been able to make light of things like Black Markets and hidden war criminals, while still exposing the severity of it all, is nothing short of incredible.
Jean Arthur, lured out of retirement for the role, is as quirky as ever, as Phoebe Frost, a member of a US Congressional Committee, visiting troops in Germany, 1947. Notoriously insecure, she feared that Wilder was favoring Marlene Dietrich, who Wilder had known since his early years making films in Berlin. Arthur eventually (nearly four decades later) apologized to Wilder, asking if they could be friends, but never let go of the grudge she held against Dietrich.
While Dietrich is essentially playing a similar role to many she’d done previously, this one had a very disturbing aspect to it- she was a Nazi sympathizer. Anyone who knows just the smallest of detail about Dietrich knows that this couldn’t be further from the truth, in her real life, but she pulls it off without lampooning the character. To have played Erika any differently would have altered the movie, for the worst.
While not as biting as his commentary on Hollywood vanity, in Sunset Blvd., the Wilder stamp is clear, in A Foreign Affair. It’s definitely not to be missed. You can order it from Movies Unlimited, as part of a two-pack Directed By Billy Wilder set, HERE.